Glasgow Necropolis: image and memory

Guest-blogger, artist and writer, Alan John Campbell, has developed a fascination with memorialisation. His work at Glasgow Necropolis has been compiled into a poignant photographic essay.

The images compiled into this photographic essay each express a narrative that taken as a total will hopefully be interesting and meaningful. Examining these images suggests that one aspect of memorialisation can be the quality of sculptural ornamentation upon grave stonemasonry.

The city’s most prominent cemetery, the Necropolis, is situated adjacent to Glasgow Cathedral and was modelled on the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. It was built in the Victorian period and although most of its burials were in the Christian Faith, a Jewish section was also arranged. Headstones, monuments, and mausoleums of wealthy merchants and industrialists are lined along winding paths that circle and climb up the hill its sited upon.

Within its boundaries can be found many fascinating examples of grave sculpture in a myriad of forms and styles; often these artistic renderings truly have aesthetic beauty. A stroll around will bring one across impressive, expensive memorials, reverentially religious as well as witty, curious memorials. There is an abundance of angels depicted with varyingly serene, contemplative or mournful countenances. Also, sculpted bronze or stone portraits of the deceased grace some of the wealthier plots. Sophisticated works of art by stonemasons that would, if reimagined, outside the cemetery environs would merit housing within a museum or art gallery.

One particular monument that warrants mention is that of John Henry Alexander who was a Glasgow theatre manager who died in 1851. The Scottish sculptor Alexander Handyside Ritchie was the stonemason who fashioned the memorial. A clever poetic verse was inscribed on a rounded surface of the monument and other details portray a theatre mask, comedic motifs and musical instruments.

Image 01
Detail of John Henry Alexander monument, Glasgow Necropolis. Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell.
Image 02
Detail of John Henry Alexander monument, Glasgow Necropolis. Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell.
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Detail of John Henry Alexander monument, Glasgow Necropolis. Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell.

The other cemeteries within the city are no less interesting to visit and a keen eye will always find either a philosophical or poignant epitaph and flourishes of sculptural skill.

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A graceful angel with a ‘contemporary’ Celtic cross memorial nearby in Riddrie Park Cemetery, Glasgow. Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell.
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Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell.
Image 06
Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell.
Image 07
Glasgow Necropolis under snowfall. Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell.
Image 08
One of a pair of bronze angels guarding a crypt entrance. Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell.

 

 

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With Glasgow Cathedral in the background, the knotwork of this Celtic cross is accentuated by the snowfall. Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell.
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‘Lost at Sea’: a fallen headstone which remembers a loved one whose body does not occupy this spot. Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell.
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Another fallen headstone which tells one tale of many inhabitants of the city whose fate was tied to Glasgow’s maritime industry. Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell.
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A saddening list of prematurely-ended lives, mostly children. Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell.

 

Image 13
Striking a philosophical tone, a verse attesting to a firm belief in an afterlife. Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell.
Image 14
A Shakespeare quote: “We are such stuff as dreams are made on”. Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell.
Image 15
“There is but one step between life and death” – a statement telling the reader that mortality ends with a momentary, ‘straightforward’ transition. Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell.
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Celestial beings that will pray for the souls of the departed. These figures represent a supplication for angelic protection for those interred beneath. Statuary of religious inference are common within the city’s cemeteries.  Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell.
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Elaborate carved detail: sadly, due to vandalism has the putti (infant-angels) on this monument have lost their heads. Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell.
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Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell
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Symmetry within the frame, including the unfortunate decapitation of the putti. Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell.
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Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell
Image 24
Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell.
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Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell.
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Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell.
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Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell.
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Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell.
Image 31
A lion’s head with the wording ‘Strength and skill’ in Latin. The verdigris patina is common upon the bronze sculptures and memorial adornments.  Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell.
Image 34
The angle of this image creates a juxtaposition of memorials and monument styles.  Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell.
Image 35
Masterly-crafted and imbued with a convincing sense of restfulness, this larger than life-sized likeness rests atop a plinth of some 8-9 ft in height. Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell.
Image 36
A pair of ram’s heads adorn this monument. Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell.
Image 37
A verse cast in iron, deeply pitted with rust and partially obscured as it lies horizontal upon the ground. “Weep not… Weep not… Weep not…” goes the incomplete reading from this image. This memorial persists as a ferruginous victim of weathering. Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell.
Image 33
Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell.
Image 39
Angel figure – art deco influenced sculpture detail. Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell.
Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell.
Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell.
Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell.
Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell.
Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell.
Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell.
Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell.
Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell.
Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell.

These monuments, taken together, have become a legacy that attracts tourists to explore the seemingly endless displays of lives recorded in stone. Complicated in the definition of its principal purpose, the cemetery provides a burial place marking an ended life; a place of connection for family-relatives and acquaintances too, as well as a place of mourning and remembrance. Nevertheless, it is a testament to those masters of memorial stonework that the experience of visiting these cemeteries can been elevated to an extraordinary experience if one has the eye to notice the detail.

For those interested in the Glasgow Necropolis, an excellent website will provide plenty of interesting information. https://www.glasgownecropolis.org

Image 40
Photograph copyright Alan John Campbell.

Alan John Campbell is an artist and writer based in Glasgow. He has spent time photographing the architecture of the city of Glasgow, the sculptural-ornamentation labours of the past stonemasons, and especially the elaborate statuary carved upon the building surfaces that demonstrate the highest levels of skill and artistry.

You can view more of Alan’s photographs on his Flickr page.

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